CAIRO – "Muslims Outraged at Facebook Profanity" read the front page headline of the Saudi English daily, The Arab News, on Thursday.
But what was most remarkable about reaction to the "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day!" on the popular social networking site was the absence of outrage in the Arab world.
The Arab News article examined reaction to the stunt, which invites visitors to draw depictions of the Muslim prophet, Muhammad, and led many participants to post sometimes derogatory cartoons.
Flashback to 2005 when the first series of cartoons lampooning the Muslim prophet were published in a Danish newspaper: massive and deadly protests erupted throughout the Islamic world. Militants launched assassination attempts against cartoonists.
|VIDEO: The organizer of the 'Everybody Draw Mohammed Day!' campaign talks to MSNBC about what he is trying to achieve|
Even on radical Islamist websites which regularly post al-Qaeda propaganda, anti-cartoon angst was in short supply.
One rare posting began, "Remember this day well, it is the worst day of your life. Let it remind you that you are a coward." The writer, Ahmed Rafed, then detailed how Muslim weakness had created an environment where others dared to desecrate the Muslim prophet. He promised to retaliate by boycotting Facebook.
Why the relatively low-key response? "People in Egypt have not heard everything yet," explained Rania Al Malky, editor-in-chief of The Daily News, a Cairo-based English-language newspaper
Al Malky also believes Muslim audiences have over time adopted a more reasoned response. "I doubt very much that repercussions will be as great as the first incident. There has been enough dialogue and enough awareness about how to react and that will water down people's response," she said. Those who oppose the site, she reasons, will respond in kind – and that means on the Web.
Indeed they have. Disgruntled Muslims have launched "Against 'Everybody Draw Mohammed Day - May 20'" Facebook page which has already attracted over 104,000 visitors, about 5,000 more than the original "Everybody Draw Mohammed" page as of late Thursday afternoon.
The information section on the opposing site demands termination of the cartoons and a one-day boycott. The posted arguments between Muslims and non-Muslims are relatively mild.
But Khalid al-Maeena, editor-in-chief of the Arab News, worries that reactions could escalate.
"It is a series of provocations to incite people and could get idiots to issue statements calling for violence," he said. "It is a determined effort to create a wedge between Muslims and other people. I hope they will rise to the occasion and be sane in dealing with it."
If violence erupts, Maeena says he will lay blame at the feet of the cartoonist who introduced the Facebook idea in the first place.
"Sensibilities are being attacked for no reason but to create mischief. If anyone dies on one side or the other, [they] should be charged with murder," said Maenna. "I am a secular person, I am a liberal, but enough is enough!"
So far, only one militant site has called for revenge. The Islamic Emirate of Al-Hind has posted on its site an English statement providing religious justification for killing anyone who "insults the Messenger of Allah." The message concludes with a threat to "hunt down the filthy boars and feast on their bloods."
As for the threatened boycott, "Several Facebook users contacted by Arab News said they would not use Facebook on Thursday," the Arab News article reported, quoting at least on would-be Facebook boycotter.
"Facebook always blocks groups or pages that hurt a religion or a section of people. But over the issue of offensive drawings, the website has chosen to encourage it. Therefore my friends and I have decided to boycott the website on Thursday and later deactivate our accounts," the Arab News quoted Shuja al Haq Siddiqi of Jeddah saying. "This is the least we can do to safeguard the honor of our beloved Prophet."
It may be too early to determine whether the predominant reaction will be as mild as a Facebook boycott. The original cartoons that sparked the controversy were printed in a Danish paper in September 2005. Protests continued for more than five months, but did become violent until February 2006, and eventually claimed more than 100 lives.
And the original Danish cartoonists are still under threat. Danish police shot an axe-wielding intruder at one of the cartoonists' homes in January of this year.